Obama, Romney Take Dueling Messages On Tour

President Obama traveled to Iowa Tuesday to talk about his renewed push to extend the Bush era tax cuts for families earning under a quarter million dollars a year. And Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney held a rare town hall meeting in Grand Junction, Colo. Melissa Block talks to Scott Horsley who is on the road with Mister Obama, and Don Gonyea who is traveling with Romney.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are both on the road campaigning today. They're touting their plans to revive the nation's economy. The president is in Iowa pitching his plan to extend the tax break for the middle class. Romney is in Colorado talking jobs. Both campaigns have raised and spent tens of millions of dollars, but polls have barely moved in recent months. The contest is still a virtual dead heat.

NPR's Scott Horsley and Don Gonyea are traveling with the candidates, and they both join us now. And, Scott, let's start with you and with the president. He's trying to draw a contrast with Mitt Romney on tax policy. What's his message in Iowa today?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, that's right, Melissa. And remember that all the Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire at year's end. The president is telling people here in Iowa he wants to extend those low tax rates for almost all Americans. He met this afternoon with a couple here in Iowa who have one child, another on the way. He stressed that that family has enjoyed nearly $5,000 in tax savings since he took office.

But, at the same time, the president wants to allow taxes to go up next year on the wealthiest two percent of Americans. And that puts him at odds with those Republicans in Congress and Mitt Romney. They want to keep taxes low for everybody, including the very wealthy.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: That fight is a big part of what this election's about. We're going to have that debate here in Iowa and all across the country. But, in the meantime, doesn't it make sense for us to agree to keep taxes low for 98 percent of Americans, who are working hard and can't afford a tax hike right now?

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: And no surprise, Melissa, the crowd here in Cedar Rapids tend to agree with that.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: And, Don, let's turn to you traveling with Mitt Romney. He's trying to keep the focus on the lackluster jobs numbers that we've seen lately. What was he talking about today?

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: He started out in Grand Junction. He held a town hall, something that's been very rare for Governor Romney over the general election campaign. There's also a stop in Colorado Springs to meet with families displaced by those recent wildfires.

But yes, the jobs numbers were really a big part of his focus, the sense that President Obama just has not gotten it done on the economy. Governor Romney called the current unemployment numbers a kick in the gut. But let's go back to that town hall this morning in Grand Junction. This is a conservative part of the state. It was a very friendly audience. Give a listen.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So why is the Obama team and the liberal media want us to think that we should be more angry with what you do with your money...

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: ...than what Obama has done with mine?

(LAUGHTER)

GONYEA: OK. So that triggered huge and lengthy applause. Here's Governor Romney's response.

GOVERNOR MITT ROMNEY: I'm not going to apologize for success at home. And I'm not going to apologize for America abroad.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: Now, it has been nine weeks since Governor Romney last held a town hall meeting of any kind. That last one was in Ohio. At that one, he got grilled by one voter over his income and his taxes and overseas bank accounts. This one, no problems like that at all for him.

BLOCK: And, of course, these campaign trips are very carefully calibrated. It's no accident that the two candidates are in Colorado and Iowa today, key battleground states in November.

Don Gonyea, how important is Colorado for Mitt Romney?

GONYEA: Oh, it's big. It's a chance for him to grab a state that President Obama won and won easily back in '08. A lot of people consider it a must-win for Obama, and the president's campaigning in Colorado like he knows it.

But, look, unemployment is 8.1 percent here, pretty much at the national average. But people certainly aren't happy with that. Still, polls have consistently put the president ahead by three points or so. Romney has not been able to move those numbers so far. Maybe it's a lack of enthusiasm. He didn't win the caucuses here. Rick Santorum won during the primary season. That may be why he's campaigning where he's campaigning, in more conservative areas, to shore up his base.

BLOCK: And, Scott, the president would be thinking back to Iowa and the key moment from 2008.

HORSLEY: That's right. Not only is Iowa where he won his first caucus in 2008, but he told the crowd here in Cedar Rapids that this was his very first stop during his last presidential campaign. Romney, on the other hand, twice finished second here in the Iowa caucuses. He's not the first choice of conservative Republicans in the state. And the Iowa economy is doing reasonably well. The jobless rate here is just over five percent.

That said, the Obama campaign is not taking the electoral votes here or anywhere for granted. The president told a crowd here today he expects a very close race in Iowa.

BLOCK: And briefly, what's in store for the rest of the week? Scott, let's start with you.

HORSLEY: Well, the president's going to be campaigning towards the end of this week in another key state, Virginia. That was kind of a surprise pick up for him in 2008, and one where he very much like to repeat this year.

BLOCK: And Don?

GONYEA: Governor Romney flies to Texas from here. He'll go to Houston where he will likely find a tougher audience than he found in Grand Junction. He'll speak to the convention of the NAACP.

BLOCK: OK. Don Gonyea traveling with Mitt Romney in Colorado. Scott Horsley traveling with President Obama in Iowa. Thanks to you both.

GONYEA: Thank you.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

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